Northern Ireland news

Nichola Mallon platform: Universal Credit must be halted and reviewed

The SDLP's deputy leader Nichola Mallon has called for Universal Credit to be halted and reviewed. Picture by Bill Smyth

Two former British Prime Ministers, Labour and Tory, have become the latest to add their voices to calls by advice experts, charities, faith leaders and communities for at minimum, a halt in the roll out of Universal Credit in the face of the overwhelming evidence that it is pushing families into hunger, homelessness, debt and poverty. Even a survey by the Department for Work and Pensions, the department responsible for its implementation, found it was pushing four out of every 10 claimants into greater financial hardship.

The facts show, contrary to the Tory government’s sell that Universal Credit would make work pay, that the hardest-hit group under Universal Credit are working families, with people with children in receipt of tax credits losing out most of all while the self-employed, given their fluctuating incomes, are particularly disadvantaged.

A recent scathing National Audit Office Report into Universal Credit also confirmed that contrary to the government’s other claims – that it would deliver value for money and move 200,000 people into work - Universal Credit is not delivering value for money, is likely to cost more than the benefits system it is replacing and the Department has itself admitted it has no way of measuring whether 200,000 jobs will be created. Even by the government’s own objectives, universal credit is a flawed and failing system.

It is this Tory government’s Poll Tax and as a result of the DUP and Sinn Féin voting to hand welfare powers back to the Tories, it is our poll tax too with the people of North Belfast, Antrim and Ballymena the next to be hit with this hardship - and all in the mouth of Christmas.

It is long past the time - in the face of the overwhelming evidence of hardship - that there is a halt and fundamental review of this cruel and failing system. Clear changes are needed. No one should have to wait five weeks and more for their first payment forcing them into mortgage and rent arrears. There should be more application pathways for those not digitally savvy. The two child tax credit limit should be scrapped. The minimum income floor which penalises the self-employed with fluctuating earnings should be abolished with a move to annual reporting of earnings rather than real time reporting. The bedroom tax should be abolished and the list goes on. If this government does not halt and reform Universal Credit, then it must be scrapped.

Despite the narrative being pushed from some quarters that this is all the Tories' fault (no blame here, and there is nothing we can do, cue wringing of hands) as the devolved government in Scotland is showing, there is much that an executive and assembly could do to help people if it was a genuine political priority.

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